There are some things I love about dementia. I especially love that it’s unlocked a side of my Dad I’d never seen before.
For most of my life, I struggled in my relationship with Dad. He was raised and still lives by a code of conduct shaped by his post-war Catholic upbringing. In the other corner there’s me, a questioning feminist not satisfied with this code passed on. The clash was bound to happen.
As is common with educated men from his era, his communication style was tell rather than share and his idea of success was measured against occupation and assets. On the contrary, I’m all for sharing inner thoughts, fears and joys (thankfully, in my later years I’ve learned to curtail over-sharing) and believe our achievements are found as much in daily microscopic detail of life as they in reaching our big life goals. While I loved my father, as the years clicked over, I was more and more disillusioned with the narrative upon which he explained our life and I just couldn’t reconcile where it lead us.
It all came to a head in April 2014 when, for a multitude of reasons, we found ourselves living again together (a story for another time). Dad was not-yet diagnosed and I was a seething 40-something single woman living with the trigger of my anger. I felt doomed. So, as you do, I temporarily escaped my fate by working for a while in Ebola-ridden Africa (again, a story for later). Predictably, I returned feeling no-less trapped than I did before. While we now knew Dad had dementia, I was still a ball of anger, trying to unravel how our life decisions brought us to this juncture in life.
Then it happened. There is no one moment I can point to, but by the end of 2015, I started to look at Dad with compassion. The resentment I held for 45 years started to dissolve. Living in dementia forces you to live in the moment what happened before was not important. My crash course in mindfulness changed my life. Actually, Dad changed it – in ways I never expected. He became expressively grateful. For everything. Everyday.
Where I could never remember him uttering ‘thanks’ in my formative years, he is genuinely and continuously thankful for the biggest and most smallest of things. For making his dinner, for helping him remember what he did that day, for finding his hankies, for looking after our beautiful ball of white fluff, Mikey, his vote of thanks is like you have given him a lifeline.
His well of gratitude is never-ending. Not only has this inspired me to see how much I am grateful for, Dad’s gratitude reminds me that my biggest achievement and indeed source of joy, is in helping someone else feel valued, safe and happy. The other stuff just doesn’t matter. Not sure these daily reminders would have happened if not for dementia, or if I’d ever have this wonderful relationship with Dad. It’s why I’m happy I live with dementia. There are of course many reasons I’m no so happy, but they are stories for another day…